I’m traveling from Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) to a town called Pune and I saw this sign advertising an upcoming movie on the road. In case you can’t see the photo clearly, it says, “Married 2 America! A single minded fight against the forces of corruption” It’s meant to be a caution to Indians to resist western influence–America in particular.
I too, agree with the sentiment of this sign. When I landed in Mumbai, one of the first things I noticed was how much more western India had become since my visit last year. It was disappointing, to get out of the plane and into the streets and see that many things that make India unique, had disappeared. While I could see some people dressed in traditional clothing, for the most part western clothing had replaced the beautiful, graceful clothing I so admire and enjoy wearing. The streets that once teemed with bikes, old fashioned Ambassadors, hand pushed carts, goats, dogs and even cows, have become much like a western metropolis. Freeways and roads are filled with Mercedes, Toyota, Fords, BMW—I may as well be at home in New Jersey. For quite a few years I have seen signs for McDonald’s (although McDonald’s in India sells Aloo Tikka Sandwich and a Lamburger, instead of using beef), Subway, Pizza Hut and many other familiar fast food joints. Thankfully, there is no Walmart or Target–yet. The Indian parliament vehemently opposes any Walmart store in India and BJP leader, Uma Bharti has publicly promised to set fire to any Walmart that opens.
At the same time parts of India have not changed. Despite the use of texts, Facebook and phones, there is still a high value placed on face to face/human relationships. People still respond to each other with respect, even if they are angry. The food still tastes fantastic and the people are warm and helpful–even in big cities like Mumbai which according to Indian standards is supposed to be one of the rudest city in the country.
But I noticed that while India does embrace some of the better attributes of both western and eastern culture, it also adopted some of the worse aspects of the west. The one that bothers me the most, is a decrease of concern shown to family and community needs. Instead there is an increased emphasis placed on the self and personal satisfaction. The lack of civic responsiblity is very quickly evidenced by the presence of litter in just about every city and town.
More importantly and sadly, many Indians have embraced materialism and greed. Even though the middle class is growing at breakneck speed and India’s superrich class is rapidly increasing, the amount of money that is given away by Indians is pitiful. “India is now home to 57 billionaires, according to Forbes, and a multiplying number of millionaires. Despite difficult economic times around the globe, over the past two years, India’s 20 wealthiest individuals have doubled their combined wealth, according to Bain & Co. However, India’s superrich have been relatively slow to give. Bain & Co.’s 2011 India Philanthropy Report found that India’s wealthy are giving away between 1.5% and 3% of their yearly income. The number marks an increase, but still pales in comparison with the 9% donated each year in the U.S.”
The prize for the most disgusting example of a superrich dunce, with absolutely no sense of civic responsibility, has to go to Mukesh Ambani of Mumbai. He is building the world’s first billion dollar home. It will have a number of idiotic and selfish features including a health club,(which is actually good, because a few of his family members could benefit) a ballroom, parking garage and a cinema. The worst part is that I have seen this structure and it is without a doubt, the ugliest building I have ever seen. Which just goes to show—you can’t buy good taste.
The movement in India to resist the influence of the west is admirable, but instead of focusing on changing the names of cities or resisting the commercial influences, more emphasis should be placed on educating the average Indian to resist adopting the more western notion of putting personal needs above the needs of the community and encouraging Indians to return to their original value system which not only sets them apart, but is one of their greatest strengths.